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Dating apps and websites have become the most popular way Americans meet new people and the only way to do so during the pandemic. Yet, for many Black Americans, these apps never fulfill their promises.

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Despite hours of scrolling, clicking, swiping, or answering personality questions, they often find that they are as isolated on these apps as they were in a bar or at a party. The only difference is that they now have to serve their own drink.

The green dot on the screen indicates that they are online, but their profiles appear invisible to everyone else. Gendered racism on dating apps is not news.

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Yet we know rather little about how gendered racism is experienced by the daters and how online dating shapes their understanding of race. In writing our book, The Dating Divide: Race and Desire in the Era of Online Romancewe conducted 77 interviews, as well as statistical analysis of how millions of daters interact or ignore one another, to understand how race has profoundly shaped online interaction.

What we find is that race overwhelms many other variables in determining whether two people will talk to each other, and Black men and women daters were particularly discriminated compared to other minority daters. One of our interviewees, Sandra, a bisexual Black woman, told us:. Is that it? I have natural hair and have had natural hair for long before the natural hair movement. Could that be it? For both Sandra and Monica, online dating does not provide an opportunity for them to be seen as who they are.

Their experiences are shaped by a predictable set of racialized and gendered stereotypes that deprive them of individuality. They are seen as Black women foremost, and often ignored by others.

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Our statistical analysis shows that, White straight men are four times more likely to message a White woman than a Black woman, even when the two women share otherwise similar characteristics. White straight women are twice as likely to respond to White men compared to Black men. In cases where White daters decide to message or respond to Black daters, we also found that race continued to shape each step of the encounter. Damien, a year-old gay man, described to us how his sexual encounter with White men usually goes:.

They always put Black before anything. Black hands, Black muscles, things like that. Black bodies. They always do that. Many Black women told us that the interest from White men is often sexual in nature. Alicia, a Jamaican American, told us:. Imagine having sex with you. It made me very upset. I was just, like, what the heck? Compared to White daters, Black daters tend to have more inclusive and progressive thinking about race and dating, and this is especially true for Black women.

Nena, a Black Floridian, noted:. Then I just stepped back. As Nena pointed out, a willingness to date Black women often does not mean an embrace for racial justice. Alicia is also acutely aware of this difference.

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When sharing her experience conversing with a White men she met on a dating app, she said:. I am gonna be there for your, blah, blah, blah.

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You know? For Alicia, the confidence of this White man indicates little more than ignorance.

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Yet, these companies never disclose whether these gestures, in fact, reduce the racism on their platforms, a place where Black daters continue to be ignored, humiliated, and objectified. These dating companies should tell us whether removing the filters indeed lessened the isolation of Black daters on their platform. Is there more they can implement to address racism on their platforms? Equally important: what can daters themselves do to really see others for who they are beyond a racial category?

It is time for us to use this technology for good, and not for reproducing centuries of racism. Jennifer H.

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